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Report: ‘Several prominent’ Cavaliers express concern about aging, defenseless, redundant roster

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The Cavaliers look like they can’t hang with the Warriors, which is troubling enough for a team with championship aspirations.

But for that realization to come during a miserable 2-8 stretch only puts more stress on the Cavs, who already appeared to be ripping at the seems. LeBron James is performativity howling at his teammates. They’re pointing the finger back at him. Coach Tyronn Lue is talking about personal agendas.

And tensions aren’t easing.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 118-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, multiple players acknowledged growing discontent and a strong sense of concern that unlike past seasons, the team does not have the capability to fix its problems and get back on a championship track.

Several prominent players, speaking on condition of anonymity to ESPN, Cleveland.com and The Athletic, expressed doubt that the problems — an aging roster, defensively challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players — could simply be worked out through patience and a chance to coalesce when fully healthy.

The Cavaliers have one preeminent player: LeBron. It’d be disingenuous to frame this article this way without including him, and I doubt McMenamin is doing that.

These concerns are perfectly valid.

Cleveland is the NBA’s oldest team, weighted by playing time, in a decade. That doesn’t bode well for building up steam toward and in a long playoff run. This is an even more extreme version of the problem LeBron’s last Heat team succumbed to.

Isaiah Thomas is a defensive liability, and Kevin Love – playing a lot of center – isn’t a rim protector. Several other players – LeBron, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, Channing Frye and Derrick Rose – are well past their defensive peaks, which weren’t necessarily high in the first place. The Cavs’ defense ranks 29, ahead of only the Kings.

Wade, Calderon and Rose can’t all serve as lead playmaker while LeBron sits – leaving the other two without clear roles when everyone is healthy. Smith and Korver would both be spot-up 3-point specialists if Smith were hitting shots. Jae Crowder and Jeff Green look similar (a compliment to Green, but a telltale sign of how underwhelming Crowder has been). Frye is a lesser version of Love as a stretch five. Tristan Thompson can’t get going, and Iman Shumpert can’t get healthy.

To be fair, the Cavaliers are 26-17 – hardly bad, but not quite championship-caliber. This portrait of doom and gloom is accurate only when measured against the highest of expectations.

The Cavs can still trade the Nets’ first-round pick to upgrade the roster, though they’re reportedly disinclined to do so. This report sounds like a plea from top players for the team to reconsider. And if owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman don’t, it’ll read as LeBron framing his exit in free agency next summer.

LeBron James does it all, still not enough for Cavaliers to beat Warriors

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers got to the Finals thanks to LeBron James leading an elite Cavaliers offense that covered up a defense which was second worst in the NBA after the All-Star break and improved to middle of the pack during the playoffs when they dialed in. That was not near good enough against the Warriors in the Finals.

New season, but we are watching the same movie.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Cleveland LeBron was nothing short of brilliant — 32 points on 18 shots, eight rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Through three quarters the Cavaliers got into the paint, hit their floaters and midrange shots, and knocked down 52.1 percent of their shots total — but they were down two because their defense was a disaster.

Isaiah Thomas tied the game 93-93 early in the fourth, but then Cleveland started a streak of missing eight shots in a row and hitting 1-of-14 (credit the Warriors playing better defense for some of that), and the Warriors just kept on scoring. And scoring.

The result was a 118-108 Warriors win to sweep the season series from the Cavaliers.

Kevin Durant had 32 points, Stephen Curry 23 and hit 4-of-8 from three.

With the trade deadline weeks away, this loss left the Cavaliers with big questions to answer:

Do they make a bold move to try to give themselves a better shot against the Warriors in the Finals? (And give themselves a cushion against Boston and Toronto.)

Is there an available player that can actually close that gap?

If they find the player, do the Cavaliers have the players and picks to get a deal done? Would they throw in the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick?

Cleveland must consider it all because this game made it clear again there is now a gap between the two teams that met in the NBA Finals the past three years.

The Cavaliers again started out hot, hitting eight of their first 10 shots. Cleveland shot 58.3 percent in the first quarter and LeBron was 6-of-8 — but they led just 37-35 because the Cavaliers could not get stops. Cleveland’s transition defense was a mess all night, and in the first quarter one-third of the Warriors points came in transition opportunities, where they were very efficient.

There were positives for Cleveland. Dwyane Wade provided a boost off the bench with eight first-half points on 4-of-7 shooting, making energy plays like the steal and alley-oop to Jeff Green just before the half.

The Cavaliers were up 64-57 at the break as they shot 61.1 percent from the midrange. But it always felt like it was not sustainable.

Cleveland had shooting issues with guys not named LeBron. IT and Wade combined to shoot 12-of-33, and as a team the Cavs shot 6-of-26 from three. You can say those number should improve, and you’d be right, but we’re back to a great offense trying to cover up a weak defense.

That’s not going to cut it in the Finals. It may not be enough to cut it before the Finals, but the Warriors are showing they are in another class right now.

Three Things to Know: LeBron James racks up third straight triple-double

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed on Sunday while practicing your ax throwing in Paris

1) LeBron James has third straight triple-double… and sends equality message. Back in the 2008-09 season, LeBron James strung together three consecutive games of triple-doubles, the season he went on to win his first MVP award. Despite 61 career triple-doubles, he hasn’t had a string like that since.

Until now. LeBron put together three again this week, the most recent coming at the expense of the Washington Wizards on Sunday, a team that had no answer for his playmaking skills. James finished the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists. It wasn’t the most efficient LeBron scoring performance of his career (8-of-23 shooting overall, 2-of-7 from three, his legs looked a little tired on the back-to-back) and he was playing too much in isolation (nearly twice as many possessions as in pick-and-roll). However, down the stretch he was a fantastic playmaker, finding teammates — such as finding the cutting Jeff Green and Kyle Korver — and doing what it took to lift his team to the 106-99 win (Cleveland’s has won five straight and 18-of-19).

LeBron was also sending a message while playing in our nation’s capital: He wore one black and one white of the LeBron 15s, with the word “Equality” on the back of both of them. Good on LeBron, I love that he has found a voice and is comfortable using it.

2) Cavaliers sticking to plan even if he seems ready: Isaiah Thomas should join Cavaliers after the first of the year. Patience. It’s a virtue. Cleveland’s end game is to have another elite playmaker and scorer on the floor in late May and (hopefully) June, not for Christmas Day (no matter who is on the schedule).

Meaning that despite the face Isaiah Thomas is working out and says he and his injured hip feel ready to return, it will be 2018 before he officially pulls on a Cavaliers jersey and takes the court.

This is the smart play by the Cavaliers, who have racked up enough wins not to need to push him. That said, LeBron is carrying a heavy load — he’s played more minutes than anyone in the league so far, and this is his 15th NBA season — and the Cavaliers need to get him some help and rest so he is fresh for the postseason.

3) Detroit ties a franchise record with 17 made threes in win over Orlando. The Pistons are not exactly a great three-point shooting team: They average a middle-of-the-pack 29.3 attempts per game (31.6 percent of their attempts), but at least hit them at a healthy 38.3 percent clip. Detroit does a good job at least of getting corner threes up and knocking them down.

Sunday they were knocking everything down, hitting 17-of-34 threes to tie a franchise record for the most made threes in a game. Anthony Tolliver led the way (5-of-7 from deep) with Reggie Bullock pitching in 4-of-5.

The Pistons have snapped out of their seven-game losing streak to win three in a row now, including a quality win over the Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back.

Three Things to Know: Andre Drummond, Pistons show start no fluke in Boston

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) East shakeout: Andre Drummond, Pistons show start no fluke in Boston; Cavaliers remind 76ers who is the power right now. There are no statement games in November. Not really. We are four-and-a-half months away from the playoffs even starting, teams will evolve and grow between now and mid-April. Any “statements” made now are long forgotten by the time the second season starts.

What we did see Wednesday was some shakeout in the East: Detroit’s start is no fluke and they proved that in Boston behind a monster game from Andre Drummond; and Cleveland reminded upstart Philadelphia who is the team to beat in the East.

Drummond has saved some big games for the Celtics in the past, but Tuesday night he looked like the best traditional center in the game (which he might just be the way he’s played this season): 26 points on 83.3 percent shooting, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He was a beast, quieting the Boston faithful when he his 6-of-8 free throws, and the Celtics had no answers.

Drummond had a lot of help. Tobias Harris continued his impressive season with 31 points on 68.8 percent shooting (including 5-of-6 from three) and eight rebounds. Avery Bradley reminded the Celtics he is one of the best on-ball defenders in the game and pushed Kyrie Irving into a 6-of-16 shooting night. It was an all-around game from Detroit that said they belong in the top half of the East, and that this 13-6 start to the season is no fluke.

Down the Eastern seaboard a little in Philadelphia, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers came to town as a measuring stick for the upstart 76ers… and the Sixers were reminded they are still a young and developing team.

Ben Simmons was assigned LeBron James to start the game, and LeBron put up 15 points in his first 10-minute run of the game as he attacked aggressively from the start. Simmons was overwhelmed, and so were the Sixers as a whole. LeBron finished the night with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and he got to rest the end of the fourth because the game was out of reach.

Cleveland has won eight in a row and that has been sparked by better defensive play, something Philly saw first hand. Of course, the Sixers helped out going 0-of-11 from three in the first half (that wasn’t all Cavs’ defense). Cleveland’s bench was dominant (Dwyane Wade had 15 points, Jeff Green 14), and the Sixers’ Simmons finished the night with 10 points on 11 shots. Joel Embiid was the lone bright spot, he had a monster third quarter on his way to 30 points and 11 boards on the night.

2) Grizzlies shock NBA world, fire coach David Fizdale. There had been long-simmering tensions between coach David Fizdale and his star center Marc Gasol in Memphis, and those bubbled to the surface Sunday when Fizdale benched Gasol during the fourth quarter of an ugly loss to a shorthanded Brooklyn team — Gasol made it clear he was not at all happy watching the end of the game.

Less than 24 hours later, Fizdale was fired.

Gasol isn’t the kind of player who goes to management and says “him or me,” but Grizzlies management took the opportunity to show who it backed. The Grizzlies have lost eight in a row and are fading from the playoff picture, even in a West where a lot of teams are stumbling, and management was sending a message that they still want to win. Memphis management thinks this thing can be turned around, that they put together a playoff team (one that has been beset by injuries). From the outside, there are a lot of “do the Grizzlies trade Gasol and/or Mike Conley?” questions, looking ahead to a rebuild. Internally, this move says Memphis isn’t there yet.

Around the league there was a lot of support for Fizdale, who is well-respected by players and coaches. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Damian Lillard and others expressed surprise at the firing. Gregg Popovich said Fizdale “did a helluva job, and I don’t think he’s going to have any problem landing someplace.” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said “It’s not right. He’s done a great job, take that team to the playoffs last year and was in a dogfight with San Antonio. Did an unbelievable job, especially when no one expected them to even make the playoffs.”

Apparently, Memphis management did — and they expect to make the playoffs again. Realistic or not. Fizdale is out because the Grizzlies were losing — even though that falls more on management and the roster he was given, which was thin and can’t handle being without the injured Conley — and combine that with he didn’t have a great relationship with the team’s best player and you have a recipe for a firing. That’s happened to a lot of coaches in the NBA.

The questions about the future and what kind of team Grizzlies management is trying to build remain. Their rebuild-on-the-fly thing hasn’t impressed so far, and that wasn’t about the coach. But management has sent its statement.

3) Warriors without Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, Kings have Bogdan Bogdanovic so they get win. Sacramento isn’t a better team than Golden State (not by a long shot), but they took Monday night’s meeting more seriously. Golden State was short handed without its two former MVPs due to injury — Curry and Durant — and that opened the door.

Bogdan Bogdanovic walked through it when, with the game on the line, he isolated against Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green and got the bucket.

There’s no big-picture takeaway from this game, but the Kings are a feisty team and the Warriors are not invincible. At least when not at full strength.

Report: Richard Jefferson may be odd man out with Cavaliers

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have 16 players with guaranteed contracts in training camp.

They can only carry 15 into the season, which means someone is going to get paid not to play.

That may be veteran Richard Jefferson, reports Jason Lloyd at the Athletic.

First off, backup point guard Kay Felder, who is on a partially guaranteed contract, almost certainly will be let go. Then it gets to the guaranteed contracts on the wing, and the Cavs have LeBron James, Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, and Cedi Osman. That’s a lot of depth. Even though the Cavaliers turned to Jefferson during the NBA Finals last season for regular rotation minutes, that was really about the need for wing defenders, which he still did better than most on the roster. This season there is that depth.

What the Cavaliers would prefer to do is trade Jefferson because it saves them money — he is on a $2.5 million contract but with the repeater luxury tax hit he costs them $10.5 million. Trade him and all those costs go away, but the Cavaliers will struggle to find anyone interested in the 37-year-old unless they attach a sweetener (a likely second-round pick).

Either way, it looks like Jefferson’s run in Cleveland is done.